If you are new to gel polish, the first thing you need is a step by step tutorial for a gel polish manicure. Once you get the method down, gel polish is basically the greatest thing since sliced bread, but there are some steps that are a lot different than regular nail polish. So read on, take some notes if you need to, and prepare to learn about the best nail polish there is.
*This tutorial is for a soak off gel polish manicure. This is NOT the same as gel enhancements that you get at a salon. Since “gel nails” can refer to either process, I want to make it clear that this tutorial is for soak off gel polish. 🙂
How to Do Gel Nails At Home
2. Prep. Cut nails to desired length, file nails to desired shape, push back cuticles, etc.
3. Buff. Buff the shine off of each nail using a 220 grit or higher file or buffer. A higher number means a finer grit. If you just removed a gel polish manicure, simply buff the new growth instead of the whole nail.
Tip: Don’t buff too much or the gel polish may lift off of the nail. You want to create a course surface for the gel polish to adhere to. Be especially careful to not over buff the tips. Over-buffing can also damage your natural nails and make them weaker, so don’t over buff.
4. Cleanse. Use 91% alcohol (cheapest at the drug store) and a lint free wipe to cleanse the nail of any debris. You especially need to remove any extra nail residue that was buffed. If any debris is left under the gel polish, it will cause lifting and your gel polish manicure will not last as long. I personally love to use disposable alcohol wipes for this step. It makes everything so easy!
5. Dehydrate. I usually count the cleansing part as dehydrating, but many brands have a separate product for dehydration. IBD has powerbond. Gelish has pH Bond. OPI gelcolor has Bond Aid. You can also use 100% acetone, but try to avoid the cuticles. Just apply the product to the nail with a lint free wipe or with the brush provided. Let it dry before painting on the base coat. I would start by skipping this step. If you have a problem with lifting, then dehydrate just the tips or wherever the lifting occurs. If you still have a problem, then dehydrate the whole nail.
6. Base Coat and Cure. Paint your nails with a gel polish base coat. If you are new to gel polish, you should know that the base coat is not optional. You need it so the gel polish will properly adhere to your nail. I personally use Gelish Foundation. Paint the entire nail with the base coat. Get as close to the cuticle and nail edges as you can, but do NOT touch the cuticle or nail edge. If the base coat touches the cuticle it can cause lifting and your gel polish manicure will not last as long. At the end, cap the free edge of your nail. That means paint the tip of your nail with the base coat. Cure for 30 seconds in an LED lamp or for 1 minute in a UV lamp.
7. Color and Cure. Paint your nail with your chosen gel polish color. Check out my swatch gallery for ideas. Paint the nail just like the base coat and avoid cuticles and nail edges. Cap the free edge by painting the tip of the nail with the gel polish. Cure for 30 seconds in an LED lamp or for 2 minutes in a UV lamp.
8. Color and Cure. Most colors need 2-3 coats. For the second and third coats, simply repeat the process for Step 7, including the curing. If you do get any gel polish on your skin or cuticle, make sure to remove it BEFORE curing. Otherwise it is very difficult to remove. Don’t worry, as long as you remove it before curing, it’s pretty easy.
9. Top Coat and Cure. Paint the nail with a gel polish top coat. Gelish Top it Off is a great top coat. Paint it like the base coat and color and remember to avoid cuticle and nail edge and cap the free edge with the top coat. Cure for 30 seconds in an LED lamp or for 2 minutes in a UV lamp.
10. Wipe off Tacky Layer. After curing, your nails will feel tacky to the touch. Don’t worry, they are dry, it’s just that the gel polish has a tacky (also called inhibition) layer when it’s done curing. Use a lint free wipe with 91% alcohol to wipe off the tacky layer on top of the gel polish. Don’t be afraid to wipe the nail, it’s dry. 🙂 I especially love using disposable alcohol wipes for this step because it prevents cross contamination of the tacky layer from nail to nail. If you use the same wipe for all of your nails, they will end up looking a bit dull.
11. Apply Cuticle Oil. If you used acetone to remove a previous gel polish manicure, then your cuticles are probably pretty dried out. Apply a cuticle oil, like my all natural version here. But, be sure to wait at least 1 minute after wiping off the tacky layer before adding the cuticle oil. If you apply the cuticle oil immediately after wiping the tacky layer, it can make the shine on the top coat dull.
Tip: There are a few top coats that have no tacky layer like this one. These are called no wipe top coats. Here is an example. If you use a no wipe top coat, then you can skip step 10. I suggest you still wait 1 minute to apply cuticle oil.
I am wearing IBD Magic Genie in these pictures, but this is not at all what Magic Genie looks like. I use a different camera for my swatches and it’s much better at getting color accurate photos. To see what IBD Magic Genie actually looks like, see my swatch here.
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